Hacking the NWP Annual Meeting: Part 1

After years attending to the National Writing Project Annual Meeting with the traveling band of Red Cedar Writing Project wiki-ers, bloggers, podcasters, and tweeters, I feel I have a good handle on how to hack a conference.  In the past, we’ve been really cognizant of those of us at home, wishing we could be at the conference and wondering about all the wonderful things going on.

Part 1: hacking with internet access

(Part 2 focuses on how to leverage cell phones with SMS to hack the conference)

When I attend a conference, it always seem that there is a lot of new information to process, new ideas to consider, and new people who I’ve met.  It usually turns out that, for me, the synthesis of all that new stuff is where I end up implementing what I’ve learned into my work.  Here are a few ways to approach that synthesis:

1. Take notes and POST them

I can’t tell you how often people have begged me for my email address or URL to get a copy of the notes I am taking.  It’s not that I take excellent notes or anything, it’s usually that people really like to collaborate on notes.  One excellent way to facilitate this if you are attending the conference in a large group, like we do at RCWP, is to utilize a wiki for notes.  We actually make a page that re-creates the Annual Meeting schedule and then just link our notes off of that main hub.

In this way, we stay organized and can collaboratively create a database of notes for the conference.

Additionally, now that Google Docs doesn’t require a login to edit, linking to a public Google Doc is a nice way to share some notes from a session.

2. Reflect in blogs

I find that blog posts allow me expand and reflect on what I am learning and is where the real work comes in.  This also allows more of a narrative of the conference to unfold, rather than long, sometimes disjointed, bulleted lists of notes.  With internet access, it is quite easy to jump on a laptop and write-up a quick reflection between sessions, and usually I make time to blog before I go to bed to make sure to capture all of my thinking.  Also, with smartphone apps that link to various services (WordPress and tumblr both have iphone apps, for example), I can even put my phone to work for a quick reflection.

Of course, for in the moment insights, tweeting is an excellent way to archive your learning and experiences.  Twitter is the most famous of the microblogging services, and conference attendees are using hashtags (the # symbol with some type of signifier after it, for example, this year’s annual meeting hashtag is #nwpam10).  Hashtags allow users to search twitter for all of the tweets related to the conference and is another great way to track what is going on.  The great thing about twitter (and more on this in the next post) is that you can tweet via the web, via your smartphone app, or via SMS texts.

3. Talk to people about their experiences: Podcasting and Vodcasting

Another great way to capture the experience of a conference is to interview other attendees, presenters, and speakers about their experiences.  I’ve interviewed authors like Jim Burke, Kelly Sassi, and Ron Clark about their views on education and been able to share those conversations with the folks back home.  Other people at Red Cedar have interviewed authors like Jerry Spinelli  and Chris Crutcher and taken those interviews home to their classrooms to share with their students.  You’d be surprised how willing most people are to be interviewed.  I always post these in a blog post along with some brief explanation:  a great way to share the excitement of a conference.

4. Find out how other people are sharing their information

The NWP Annual Meeting has a whole page devoted to ways one can connect to the meeting. One can post pictures to flickr, tweet, blog, post presentations to Slideshare and more.  NWP is able to grab all these different posts only if each person tags in the way indicated. So for tweets, tag with #nwpam10 and on flickr, Slideshare, all blog posts, youtube videos and the like should all be tagged with nwpam10.  That way a quick search on the tag will yield all of the relevant photos, blog posts, vodcasts, podcasts, presentations, etc.

5. Respond on designated spaces

NWP has a facebook page and a Ning designated for conversations and reflections on the Annual Meeting.  At the very least, post a comment or two in one of those spaces about your experiences.

6. Enjoy yourself!

Only do as much as you can and take each of these suggestions as an invitation to share your learning in different media.  I do it because I love learning new things and sharing them with others.  I like going back and remembering, years later, different experiences I’ve had (last year, I met Billy Collins! Wow!). I only do as much as is still enjoyable for me and no more.  I know that with so many invited to share, we do a really nice job capturing the conversation.

For more information:

National Day on Writing 2010: My flash mob story

I suppose I will begin at the beginning.

From the time I was a young child, I have wanted to be in a musical.  I want music to break out where I was, and I wanted everyone around me to dance.  Then, with the advent of cell phones and social media, smart people created flash mobs.  I knew from the first glimpse of a flash mob that I would, one day, participate in one myself. It was the perfect intersection of technology, culture, and dancing.

In my course this semester, Technology, Society, and CultureYong Zhao invited us to identify a project that reflected the the topic of the course.  I realized on my first reading of the syllabus that my dream of a flash mob would be a perfect place to inquire around technology, society, and culture.  And so it began.  I set about thinking through what it would take to bring this idea to fruition.  It seemed complicated.

I watched a lot of flash mob videos on YouTube. I bombarded my twitter feed and my facebook feed, set up a public Facebook event page and invited everyone I knew.  I blogged about it here and sent the link around twitter for weeks.  I begged strangers to post the information on their listervs.  When I first conceived of the project, I was also thinking about the National Day on Writing, which was October 20th.  Perfect!  Flash mobs require lots of digital writing in the getting of participants.  Also, I love the concept of viewing the community as a text–if we accept that, then we “write” on the community with our dancing.  Finally, the video of the event also becomes its own new media, its own text to be read, consumed, and interpreted.

The night before the flash mob, I was a nervous wreck.  I had over fifty people claiming they were going to come, yet I had been getting ominous emails from close friends and acquaintances backing out.  What if no one came? What if too many people came and I couldn’t control them? I had visions of high school wild parties when my parents were out of town.  After a restless night, it was finally game time and I was a mess.

I had found a fabulous choreographer, Jillian Tremonti, and she and I convened in Erickson at the appointed time.  10 minutes passed. 20 minutes. One person arrived.  We discussed having a flash trio and made a pact that the show would go on with the three of us if we had to.  Finally, we had five more arrive, for a total of eight participants.  And these were the most enthusiastic participants a flash mob organizer could hope for.

As we filtered into the International Center, I noticed a horde of high school students, obviously on some sort of field trip, flooding into the food lines.  High School students, I can say with some authority as a former HS teacher, are the best.  I knew they’d cheer us on. My confidence buoyed, I talked my way into using the PA system and we were ready to go.  Here are the results:

In the end, we had a great time, people were enthused.  We passed around flyers including a writing invitation (based on our flash mob) and instructions for adding to the National Gallery of Writing, where I had set up a local gallery for the flash mob writings.  One young woman seized the moment and wrote frantically.  She walked up to me, thrusting the sheet into my hand and thanked me.  I think that, at least, made it all worth it.  Writing has always made my life better, and to know that, for a brief moment, I brought attention to that is a good feeling.

I will be adding a more academic view of this event through an examination of the affordances of the flash mob for academic purposes.  More soon.

For more on this event:

Listen to internet radio with NWP radio on Blog Talk Radio

Because Digital Writing Matters: A review

I feel I have to begin this post with the full disclosure that I was breathless with anticipation for this book.  First, I am one of the National Writing Project’s biggest fans.  Second, I have had the privilege of working with Troy Hicks at the Red Cedar Writing Project and with Dànielle DeVoss at our WIDE PATHS institute last year.  As for Elyse Eidman-Aadahl, she is NWP’s fearless leader and one of the smartest people I’ve ever met.  So, I came into my reading experience a tad biased.

That being said, the book definitely lived up to my expectations and then some. I was impressed to note the transfer of many of the ideas and concepts they presented: while this text’s stated focus is on writing, in many ways, the technological shift to the Read-Write web has positioned all of us as writers.  Any educator moving their pedagogy into online environments would do well to read this text.

The book does pull inspiration and thinking from Because Writing Matters, a seminal text on writing instruction.  What is so smart about Because Digital Writing Matters that distinguishes it from the earlier text is that it addresses the good pedagogy of pen and paper writing, but also points out the ways in which digital writing changes the rhetorical choices of the writer and the pedagogical choices of the teacher.

The authors address all of the issues that surround taking one’s students into online and digital environments.  They begin with a discussion defining the nature of this type of composition.  The text then moves into more prosaic concerns, those concerns that ultimately make or break the taking of instruction online or digital: issues of copyright, acceptable use policies, standards and benchmarks, assessment.  I was impressed that even the physical layout of a computer lab was considered: the very physical positioning of the students and teacher has an impact on the overall learning ecology.

In short, this book is jammed with high-quality instructional vignettes to serve as inspiration for those making the foray into online or digital composition.  I have every confidence that the thoughtful discussion of digital writing here will change the way we talk about education and technology.

For more information: